As we heard recently at SITA’s IT Summit in China, the country’s air transport industry is investing strongly in new technology and automation to provide a hyper-personalized service. This is seen by industry leaders as critical to handling increasing customer demands alongside China’s rapid growth in passenger traffic, according to SITA’s 2019 China IT Insights survey.
As early as the mid-2020s, China is expected to take over from the US as the largest air transport market. Passenger volumes for the country are set to reach 1.6 billion by 2037, says the latest forecast by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). China currently has approximately 235 airports, but it needs another 450 airports by 2035 to deal with the predicted number of passengers. That’s an extraordinary level of growth.
Obviously, this trend for air travel is putting immense pressure on China’s air transport infrastructure and processes. To address this rapidly advancing situation, China is looking to harness the power of cutting-edge technology to optimize operational efficiencies and collaborate with stakeholders in the industry.
A personalized passenger experience
I’ve worked with many of China’s airports and airlines, and it’s clear to me that they have long had a strong record in adopting technology to improve efficiencies. Today, this includes investing in artificial intelligence (AI), alongside chatbots, biometrics and blockchain to deliver more services faster to an increasing number of passengers.
The efforts will do much to enhance the passenger journey. The Insight results show that 88% of both airlines and airports are planning major programs or R&D with AI by 2022, for example. This investment meets the expanding demands of passengers, with 64% of them wanting a digital travel concierge, according to SITA’s research in China.
Already 43% of airlines in China have AI-driven chatbots for customer service. Planned investment here should see availability accelerate over the coming years.
The march of self service in China
There can be no doubt that China’s airlines and airports have been pathfinders in self-service and we’ve seen it reach a strong level of maturity. The next big step is biometrics.
Today, 27% of airports have self-boarding gates using biometrics with travel documents. This will leap to 66% in the next three years. In addition, more than 50% of airports are looking to use secure single biometrics tokens for touch points by 2022.
Airlines are also looking to adopt biometrics. Currently, 60% are looking to install self-boarding gates using biometrics with ID in a similar time frame to push forward with a secure and seamless passenger journey.
Mobile services: paramount
It’s well known that China has the largest number of mobile device users in the world. Mobile services are therefore crucial for airlines and airports to meet growing passenger demands.
As early as 2022, all airlines and 93% of airports will be investing in mobile services, say SITA’s China IT Insights results. Services include check in and flight status notifications and airline offers. One fifth are also using mobiles to sell newspapers, magazines, movies and TV to passengers.
It isn’t just information that China’s airports are looking to furnish to passengers. They’re also offering mobile payment facilities to buy airport services, for example. This highlights how important mobile devices are to China’s air passengers.
Blockchain takes off
I was interested to see the results on Blockchain. While Blockchain is clearly on the air transport industry’s radar in China, a modest 24% have major programs or R&D in place at present. But this is set to leap to 80% by 2022, so we’ll be watching this trend closely.
This is very much in line with the country’s ongoing commitment to using and accelerating Blockchain technology, which the government has deemed a national priority. We have been pleased to be collaborating with a group of major Chinese airlines and airports on the SITA Aviation Blockchain Sandbox, for example.
China: a trail finder
Clearly, with China set to become the fastest growing aviation market in the world by 2022, it needs to prepare for the surge in passengers that will come with it. The news is good for the country’s future air travelers.
Our report shows that airlines and airports are already working to get ahead of the curve by investing in new technologies to shape the journey of the future – as a connected, personal and streamlined one.